Decarbonization and Local Air Pollution Disparities

Climate change and social inequality are two of the world’s most pressing issues. They are also intricately linked. The imperative to address climate change is overlaid on a world that is already deeply unequal. A recent environmental justice literature documents systematic gaps in local air pollution concentrations between disadvantaged and other individuals. Because local air pollution is often co-produced with GHGs, an emerging question asks whether certain decarbonization strategies may narrow or widen existing air pollution disparities. This talk covers two studies. The first paper examines air pollution disparity consequences of California’s carbon market. The second paper quantifies and decomposes the trend in air pollution disparity from the recent decarbonization of the U.S. electricity sector. In both studies, I discuss how embedding pollution dispersal modeling into standard statistical approaches enables new insights to this question.

Kyle Meng is an Associate Professor at the Bren School of Environmental Management and the Department of Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Climate and Energy Program Director at the Environmental Markets Solutions Lab. An environmental and resource economist with training in engineering and atmospheric physics, Dr. Meng studies the equity and efficiency consequences of environmental policies, with a focus on climate policies. Dr. Meng has published in leading science and economics journals including the American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Nature, Science, and PNAS. He received his PhD in Sustainable Development from Columbia University and his Bachelor’s in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Princeton University. A first-generation immigrant, he was a recipient of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

Friday, October 21, 2022
Kyle Meng, Associate Professor, Environmental Economics, UC Santa Barbara, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management
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EmPOWERing Global Change with Life Cycle Assessment: A Geographical Textured Approach

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a cradle-to-grave quantitative tool that examines environmental burdens of products and processes from materials extraction through waste disposal.  LCA is increasingly used in policy to reveal unintended consequences associated with decisions about energy products and their supply chains yet is often criticized for using uncertain inputs.  While LCAs of electricity generation are often perceived to be well understood, this presentation will illuminate gaps that overlook the equivalent of a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year.  Novel methods that examine a variety of spatial scales can support the development of important mitigation opportunities, from sites to the world that is represented in current datasets.  Leveraging uncertainty analyses and advanced spatiotemporal information, research that improves accuracy and our understanding of uncertainty in LCA will provide insights into both mitigation solutions and evolving trends in the field.

Dr. Sarah Jordaan is an Associate Professor of Industrial Ecology / Life Cycle Assessment at the Department of Civil Engineering and Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design, McGill University.  Her interdisciplinary research focuses on life cycle assessment, techno economic analysis, and technology innovation.  By improving the spatiotemporal texture of these fields, her research group—Energy Technology and Policy Assessment (ETAPA)— develops solutions for a more sustainable energy future.  Her collaborations have been published in Nature Climate Change, Science, Environmental Science & Technology, and Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.  Her doctorate in Environmental Design is from the University of Calgary (2010) and Bachelor of Science (Physics) was completed at Memorial University in 2003. Prior to McGill, she held positions at Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, the Electric Power Research Institute, Shell, the University of Calgary, and the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the UC, San Diego.

Friday, October 14, 2022
10:30am – 11:50am PST
Sarah Marie Jordaan, B.Sc., Ph.D.; Associate Professor, Life Cycle Assessment / Industrial Ecology; The Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (TISED); Department of Civil Engineering; McGill University; Research group: Energy Technology and Policy Assessment
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Urban Energy Democracy: Investigating the Historical-Geographies of Atlanta’s Electricity Politics

This talk considers how the historical-geographical emergence and evolution of Atlanta’s urban electricity networks influences contemporary energy democracy organizing. In 2017, Atlanta became the first major city in the U.S. South to adopt a 100% clean energy target to supply all electricity from renewable sources by 2035. Atlanta’s then-Mayor grounded this move in the long history of Atlantans’ fight for freedom and a contemporary imperative to address racialized socio-economic inequality. Atlanta has among the highest median energy burdens in the U.S. and the city’s plan outlined a strategy to address energy affordability and efficiency while creating jobs. However, this comprehensive energy and social program stalled. Through archival research, I trace the historical conjunctures through which the regulatory compact between the state regulator and electric utility took hold and how these legal and institutional relationships effect the city’s ambitions today. In Atlanta, where electricity is provided by a traditionally regulated monopoly utility, I investigate the strategies that advocates employ to seek representation and participate in regulation in the interest of energy justice.

Dr. Nikki Luke is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Sustainability at the University of Tennessee. She is an urban geographer and studies energy, labor, and social reproduction in the U.S. South. Nikki is currently working on a book about the politics of energy transition in Atlanta, Georgia and a collaborative research project investigating just transitions for workers and energy vulnerable communities in South Carolina and Tennessee. Her research has been published in American Quarterly, the Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Antipode, and Social and Cultural Geography. She previously worked with the Labor Center Green Economy Program at the University of California, Berkeley and has received support for her research from the National Science Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

Friday, October 7, 2022
10:30am – 11:50am PST
Nikki Luke, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
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Design and Characterization of Integrated Systems for Solar Fuel Production

Carbon neutral energy sources that are scalable, deployable, and cost effective will be required at an unprecedented scale to halt irreversible climate change. To design novel materials that can efficiently produce energy with minimal impact on the environment, few factors are of primary importance: i) complete understanding of the properties of the most selective and efficient reaction environments, and ii) correlative characterization of their behavior under operating conditions. Here, we will focus on the role played by microenvironments and on the opportunities offered by the utilization of sunlight for hydrogen production and CO2 reduction. We will show the synthesis and the advanced characterization of integrated semiconductors and catalysts for (photo)electrocatalytic systems as they can be used under realistic operating conditions for solar fuel production. We will present recent results from our group supported by theoretical calculations that led to highly selective CO2 (photo)reduction on Cu, Ag, and Cu2O electrodes. In addition, we will discuss how to make more durable materials for light-driven H2 production.

Dr. Toma is an expert in materials synthesis and characterization. In her career, she has worked with several classes of materials spanning energy research and nanomedicine. During her postdoctoral research at University of California Santa Barbara first, and Berkeley afterwards, she developed an interest for organic materials for molecular electronics. With a very interdisciplinary background, at LBNL, she manages a complex portfolio of research activities that comprise the synthesis and advanced characterization of materials with tailored properties. In her career, and more intensively in these past six years at LBNL, she has been recognized world-wide for her contribution in (photo)electrocatalysis. In 2018, she was selected by the Royal Society of Chemistry as one of the “100 Women of Materials Science”.

Friday, September 30, 2022
10:30am – 11:50am PST
Dr. Francesca Toma, CSD Staff Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
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How the Path for Energy Justice in the US Got a lot Clearer but Only a Little Easier

Given the new federal climate policies embedded in the Inflation Reduction Act, it has become even more critical to focus on advancing energy justice at the state level. The law establishes a new federal framework for transitioning the country to low-carbon energy sources, centering most levers of action on states or market actors, and doing little to address aspects of equity and inequity in the transition.

The Inflation Reduction Act provides clarity that the system we’ll operate under – likely for a minimum of seven to eight years – will not be one of direct federal regulation banning fossil fuels or mandating renewable energy. Instead, it encourages a state-centered and market incentive-driven transition to cleaner power sources. And while the law includes a few equity-focused provisions, it does not require a transition to energy justice. Thus, most of the work to advance energy justice is left to a wide array of actors who must make intentional efforts in the absence of federal leadership.

This seminar will offer an overview of what energy justice is, how the outlook for achieving it has changed or not, and how individuals, organizations, businesses, and government entities can understand the role we all must play in securing a just energy future.

Subin DeVar is the co-founder and executive director of the Initiative for Energy Justice, a national research center that provides law and policy resources to advocates and policymakers to advance state-level transitions to equitable renewable energy. Prior to working at IEJ, he directed the Sustainable Economies Law Center’s Community Renewable Energy Program to promote a just and rapid transition to clean energy through community control of energy resources. Subin began his career working in the field of nonprofit communications. He first worked for the Tahirih Justice Center, a legal advocacy organization for immigrant women fleeing violence, and then M+R Strategic Services, a consulting firm serving nonprofit organizations. He has a JD from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Subin is passionate about building hope that humanity can respond to climate change in a loving, equitable, and transformational manner.


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UC Davis Developing Tech Using Current Air Conditioning Systems to Combat Climate Change Effects

DAVIS, Calif. (KGO) — The Western Cooling Efficiency Center at UC Davis is trying to develop new air technology that addresses problems with the grid and the challenges of climate change using our current AC systems.

This research would address the problem of energy consumption in peak periods on hot days.

“The grid is stressed late afternoon and what occurs is that there’s too much demand for electricity. One way to address that is to use a battery. This new technology instead of using a battery uses a liquid that absorbs moisture and by using this liquid that absorbs moisture it acts like a battery but is much less expensive that a battery for doing the same thing,” said Mark Modera, the former Director of the Cooling Efficiency Center.

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Heat pumps: Coming to a home near you?

Karl Johnson was just looking for a way to keep his Corbin Park home, built in the early 20th century, comfortable.

The gas-fed furnace was on its way out, and his central air conditioner had already failed. To cool the home, Johnson had several portable units running throughout the day in the summer, belching hot air back into the rooms and driving up his energy bill each month.

“At some point, it’s just insanity to keep up with trying to address the issue,” Johnson said.

So he started researching central air systems online and settled on a heat pump for his home – a combination heating and cooling, electrified system that policymakers and the White House have been pushing as a method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, which passed the Senate by a razor-thin 51-50 vote on Sunday, includes a major boost for climate-friendly energy systems, including heat pumps. 

The bill includes rebates and incentives for the purchase of heat pumps for both air and water conditioning in residential structures. The legislation would provide rebates of up to $8,000 to install heat pumps in homes for the next decade, according to Bloomberg. Those who wouldn’t qualify for the rebate could still get tax credits of up to $2,000.

The inflation act also piggybacks on a decision made by President Joe Biden in June to use the Defense Production Act to spur domestic production of appliances that help curb carbon emissions, including heat pumps, by providing $500 million in that effort, according to The Hill.

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Do DIY air filters work against California wildfire smoke? What to know about cost and safety

Do-it-yourself air filters are safe, effective and can be used to protect your lungs from California wildfire smoke.

Wildfire smoke is harmful and can stretch hundreds of miles. The smoke from the 2021 Dixie Fire in California was felt as far as Denver, The New York Times reported. Here are two safe options, according to the University of California, Davis, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board.

Good air filters can remove dangerous smoke particles from your home. According to the California Air Resources Board, indoor air cleaners help filter out small particulate matter that can cause health concerns.

Wildfire smoke produces harmful air pollutants that can aggravate existing health problems and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

The resource board recommends using a certified air cleaner whenever the air quality index is at an unhealthy level, which you can check at The agency also says if a board-certified commercial system is not an option for your home, a DIY is an OK alternative.

“These temporary air cleaners should be used with extreme caution, and only if other air cleaning options are unavailable,” the board writes on its website. It says never leave the device unattended and only use box fans manufactured in the last 10 years (after 2012), as those fans “will have a fused plug, which will prevent electrical fires if the device is knocked over.”

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close up of an EV being charged

Ask a Scientist: In Search of a ‘Green’ Electric Car Battery

Lithium-ion batteries are the most popular battery in use today. First commercialized in 1991, their cost has declined by a remarkable 97 percent over the last three decades, enabling the rapid growth of mobile phones, laptops and more recently, electric cars. Global demand for the batteries is projected to increase dramatically by the end of this decade, largely due to the growing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) around the world.

More EVs is good news for the climate. After all, as a 2020 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) analysis shows—and an updated, soon-to-be-released analysis will confirm—EVs’ lifecycle global warming emissions are dramatically lower than that of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles. But mining the materials used in EV batteries, including cobalt, lithium and nickel, comes with its own set of public-health, environmental and human-rights challenges. Despite EVs’ considerable environmental benefits, it will be imperative to “green” the material sourcing process to ensure a more sustainable and ethical supply chain as the world transitions to an electrified transportation system.

Fortunately, scientists are on the case. They are altering battery chemistries to reduce reliance on certain metals, such as cobalt, for example, and coming up with ways to recycle and repurpose batteries to minimize the need for new raw materials altogether.

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Modeling Impacts of Ventilation and Filtration Methods on Energy Use and Airborne Disease Transmission in Classrooms

Lowering the potential of airborne disease transmission in school buildings is especially important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The benefits of increased ventilation and filtration for reducing disease transmission compared to drawbacks of reduced thermal comfort and increased energy consumption and electricity demand are not well described. A comprehensive simulation of outdoor air ventilation rates and filtration methods was performed with a modified Wells-Riley equation and EnergyPlus building simulation to understand the trade-offs between infection probability and energy consumption for a simulated classroom in 13 cities across the US. A packaged heating, ventilation, and air conditioning unit was configured, sized, and simulated for each city to understand the impact of five ventilation flow rates and three filtration systems. Higher ventilation rates increased energy consumption and resulted in a high number of unmet heating and cooling hours in most cities (excluding Los Angeles and San Francisco). On average, across the 13 cities simulated, annual energy consumed by an improved filtration system was 31% lower than the energy consumed by 100% outdoor air ventilation. In addition, the infection probability was 29% lower with improved filtration.

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